Book Discovery Strategies #7: Paid Advertising


Last month, thriller author Mark Dawson made headlines after a Forbes article disclosed his Amazon earnings. The fact that he earned over $450,000 from self-publishing in a single year was remarkable, but it wasn’t the most important part of the article for indie authors. What mattered more was the strategy he used to propel his way to the top. Dawson spent over $300 a day on Facebook ads, and for his efforts, he was rewarded with a 100% return on investment. In layman’s terms, that means for every dollar he put in, he got two dollars back.

The seventh and final book discovery strategy we’ll discuss as part of this series may be the most challenging. Using Facebook ads to either add email subscribers or gain direct sales is hardly a given. Plenty of authors have spent hundreds of dollars without a return. Others have experienced minor gains, only to see their ads stop performing somewhere down the line. The Paid Advertising strategy requires having some money to burn for testing purposes, and you’ll need patience to keep yourself from giving up when your campaign looks hopeless.

Facebook advertising is an advanced strategy, and we recommend doing as much research as you can before starting it. Never assume you’ll get a certain type of results before you begin, because Facebook has a way of subverting expectations.

Why Does This Strategy Work?

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The masters of paid advertising on Facebook work tirelessly to target their potential customers with the utmost precision. There’s a lot you can do to refine your targeting. You can upload the emails of your subscribers and create a Lookalike Audience based on their demographics. You can target by age, gender, household income, preferred mobile device, and a host of other attributes. You can retarget ads to people who’ve been to your website using the Website Custom Audiences pixel. The advertisers who experience the most success on Facebook use a combination of the above methods to improve on the most important statistics: Cost Per Click and Return on Investment.

Paid advertising works when you continually work to lower your cost per click, or the amount you pay Facebook for each time a user clicks your ad. When you target a general Facebook audience, there are going to be a ton of people who aren’t interested in your sci-fi/fantasy book ad, which means Facebook will need to display your ad to more people and raise the cost per click. When you refine who you target to people who enjoyed a similar sci-fi/fantasy book, the ad will be more relevant to the audience and the cost per click will go down. CPC is important, but return on investment (or ROI) is the key to your campaign.

You could get CPC down to five cents a pop, but that number doesn’t matter unless you’re getting people to do as the ad intended. For example, if you’re doing a direct sales ad, you at least want to break even by earning as much as you spend. If you spend $50 and get $100 in sales, you get a 100% ROI (the amount you earned minus the amount you spent divided by the amount you spent). On the other hand, if you spent $50 and only got $25 in sales, you end up with a -50% ROI. While a low CPC is a good benchmark, what you really want is a positive ROI. One of Mark Dawson’s students in his Self Publishing Formula group blew Mark’s numbers out of the water with a box set that earned over 400% ROI. Imagine spending $1,000 a month with that kind of return? When the system works, you can reap some pretty great rewards.

How Does This System Work?

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Paid advertising has a lot of moving parts, but it all starts with creating an ad that people want to click on. Start by investing in a high quality image that’s 1,200 pixels wide by 628 pixels high. Images that work the best employ contrast and a color scheme that fits with your book cover or the page you’re sending customers to. The images don’t require text, but if you use text in your picture, make sure it covers less than 20 percent of the image.

Facebook wants to create a positive experience for its users, so it tends to weed out pictures that are too sexy or too violent. If those traits are important elements to your book, then it’s best to imply things rather than display them. For example, a James Bond type character would be best suited holding the gun by his side rather than pointing it directly at the viewer.

Once you’ve got your image or multiple images ready, start writing your ad copy. There’s no formula for words that work every time in ads, but it’s usually best to keep things short, use succinct punchy sentences, and inspire emotions in the reader to get people to click. Sensory adjectives work well, such as heart-pounding action and terrifying horror. Check out the book descriptions of the best selling books in your genre and try to adapt their buzz words to fit your ad. Since there are no guarantees with ads, you’ll need to experiment with what works best for you.

Once you’ve got your ad image and copy set, you’ll want to start working on your targeting. If you have an email list with more than 500 people, then it’s a good idea to create a Lookalike Audience using the Audiences tool in the Facebook Ad Manager. Facebook uses your existing contacts to generate over a million users with similar characteristics. You’ll use and refine this Lookalike Audience to target your ad.

Once Facebook has generated your Lookalike Audience, you’ll want to reduce the million or so targeted people under 200,000 by selecting interests your ideal reader would like. For example, if you were a horror author, you might narrow your targeted audience by only targeting people who like Blake Crouch or Stephen King. You can narrow things further by targeting by the devices they use, such as a Kindle if your ad is focused on Amazon readers. You can go deeper on targeting by age, household income, and more, but try targeting an ad at between 50,000 and 200,000 people to start.

Now all of the above steps were simply to create one ad. To get the best bang for your buck, you’ll want to test multiple ads with multiple different audiences to see which ones work the best. Create a few different ads and target audiences to start.

Facebook ads can be tricky, and we’ve hardly had enough time to cover even the basics here. We recommend taking Mark Dawson’s free training at his Self Publishing Formula site to give you a more well-rounded explanation.

The Name Of The Ad Game Is Tweak

You’ll need to make a lot of small changes to find the best possible ads for your Paid Advertising strategy. Sometimes changing a word, an image, or your Amazon sales page copy will be the difference between a dud and an incredibly successful ad. If you’re doing a direct sales campaign, you’ll want to sell books that are high-priced enough for you to get a decent return. Multi-book box sets priced around $6.99 tend to do well when paired with a strong campaign.

It’s going to take time to get used to the ad system, and it’ll take even longer to find an ad or a series of ads that you’d label a winner. You’ll likely burn a few hundred dollars to find something that works consistently, but if you can find even consistent 10% ROI, you’ll have a guaranteed method for increasing your sales. In the right circumstances, such a marketing method in your corner can truly be a Holy Grail for your author career.

Book Discovery Strategy #6: Meeting Merchandizers


Most of the book discovery strategies we’ve discussed on the Author Marketing Institute can be done from the comfort of your own computer. This makes sense because you’re marketing a digital product in a digital age. But since not all e-retail platforms operate using new digital practices, your success off of Amazon may require some travel and face-to-face interaction.

As we’ve previously mentioned, sales and popularity on Amazon is heavily tied into the website’s algorithm. You’ll be displayed on more searches if you sell more books at a higher price. You’ll stick higher up in the sales rankings if your sales are spread out over a few days. While Amazon does some editorial choosing for its Deal of the Day promotions, most of the books it features are part of an automated process. The other ebook retailers use some automation, but there’s also a lot more selection by members of each site’s merchandizing staff.

First and foremost, merchandizers for iBooks, Nook Press, and Kobo are likely to choose books that are already selling well. Unless you’re constantly ranking high on those platforms to begin with, you won’t get chosen during that stage of the game. However, if you meet and connect with these merchandizers, your face-to-face efforts may be well rewarded with prominent placement.

Why Does This Strategy Work?

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Before Amazon dominated the ebook landscape, getting featured online or in a book store was the result of negotiations between a publisher and a book store or website. While Amazon usually doesn’t take payments for features of that kind, several of the other retailers continue to negotiate with publishers for online placement of books. If the non-Amazon retailers could get paid for every space on their site, then that’s likely what they’d do, but there are simply too many spaces available and too many readers hunting for their next fix. When the retailers figured this out, they began letting self-published authors jockey for space.

Non-Amazon retailers get plenty of emails requesting placement or marketing assistance, but you get a lot more impact from a face-to-face meeting. It’s easy to dismiss an email address to the digital wastebasket, but when you see a person and hear their pitch, you can’t help but want to assist. Even though reps at non-Amazon platforms don’t always have a gleaming reputation, these are people who love books and want authors to succeed. When they see that you’re an author who writes well, understands marketing, and wants to keep putting books into reader hands, you’ll be well on your way to a featured promotion.

As authors have experienced decreased revenue from going exclusive on Amazon, they’ve sought out improved earnings from the other platforms. While some tactics that work on Amazon like the use of keywords carry over to Apple, Kobo, and Nook Press, getting featured is the only surefire way to sell more books through the other retailers. It’s an absolute must for multi-platform success.

How Does This Strategy Work?

Meeting with merchandizers is probably the simplest of the book discovery strategies, but it will require travel, money, and time. The first step is finding out where the representatives of the various platforms will be taking meetings or setting up a booth. The major retailers like iBooks, Nook Press, and Kobo are a fixture at big-time conferences like Book Expo America and the London Book Fair. Since these events are so big and crowded, you may want to consider trying to strike up a conversation during a smaller conference.

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To find where the reps will be, start by emailing each retailer to ask. Kobo will be the quickest to respond with the most human attention, but you may be able to get the info you need in this manner from iBooks and Nook Press as well. If you’re unsuccessful, check out the list of speakers at writing conferences in your area. The events with a slight self-publishing focus are the likeliest candidates for merchandizing rep attendance.

Once you’ve found the closest conference that will feature representatives from the retailers, save up for your trip and take the necessary time off work. Depending on the size of the conference, you may need to schedule a meeting to get face time with the reps. In most cases, however, you can skip a presentation or two and go chat up the reps while most of the attendees are listening to the speakers.

You’ll want to know your pitch and have a set of business cards handy to distribute. You should know approximately how many books you’ve sold, and you should be prepared to bring up your book on a mobile device (on that retailer’s platform). The better your book looks and the better reviews you’ve obtained, the more likely it is that the rep will want to hear you out. Beyond the pitch part of the encounter, you should be ready to have a regular old conversation. Reps want to hear your story and know that you’re a human being, as opposed to just an email address. That way, when you follow up with them, they’ll remember exactly who you are.

After the conference, follow up with the rep as soon as you can. Make sure to provide any information the rep requested from you, such as your title, the link to your book, and any other marketing materials. Don’t be a pest, but make sure to follow up just enough to get your book featured. After you’ve secured the feature, check back in with the rep every couple of months to see if you can get your book back in a prominent place.

Who You Know

There are ways to connect with reps without meeting them in person. Perhaps you know a friend who has a connection with a rep, and this person can act as an intermediary for the two of you. But if you don’t have friends in high places, you’re going to need to make the effort to introduce yourself.

Beyond connecting with reps, you never know who you’ll meet at these conferences and other events. In addition to getting a foothold on the non-Amazon platforms, you may make other contacts who will lead to additional sales opportunities. The only way to make those connections, however, is for you to leave your living room and get your face out there.

Book Discovery Strategy #5: Social Media Events


Facebook launch parties and other related events have been a fixture of the social media platform since its launch. Multi-Author Facebook Events, however, are relatively new, and when they’re done correctly, they can lead to a lot of new fans discovering your books.

Horror author Timothy Long discussed his zombie fiction Facebook event during a 2014 episode of Simon Whistler’s Rocking Self Publishing Podcast. Sell More Books Show Co-Host Bryan Cohen went on to take the events to the next level, running six events over the following year. What these events showed was that Facebook is a great venue for cross-pollinating readers from one author to another. It works well as an arena for author-fan interactions, and it can be used successfully to collect email subscribers and sell books.

Why Does This Strategy Work?

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The Social Media Event strategy works for many of the same reasons that the Box Set strategy works. When you bring together a collection of authors who are willing to promote something, you end up with thousands of fans who hear about it. While it’s likely that not every author will pull his weight and not every fan will be interested, if the majority of people involved give it a go, your event will be popular and successful.

Authors participating in these events have noticed a bump in sales and subscribers. They make direct connections with new fans of the genre, and they bond with other like-minded authors. As in the box set strategy, the person putting together the event will spend the most time, but he’ll also get the most benefit. By directing attendees to a hub page on his own website, the event coordinator has the best chance of bringing in email subscribers and getting the word out about his own books.

How Does This Strategy Work?

As the coordinator, you’ll start out by reaching out to the top authors in your genre with whom you’re already acquainted. This is a good time to call in any favors you’re owed by your peers. It’s always smart to get a few big names on board before you begin to pitch other authors because it’s a sort of social proof that the event will be worth doing.

After you’ve secured some initial authors through your existing contacts, start reaching out to authors via email or the contact form on their websites. You’ll need to be very specific about the event, including promotion expectations, pricing expectations (if you’re doing a 99-cent sale), and the date of the event. You may need to email three to five times as many authors as you want to include to get up to your final number. If you can’t get many big names, then your target should be hard workers who have a small but dedicated fan base.

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Similarly to the box set, organizing the authors involved will be a little painful. Set up cloud-based documents to agree on times the authors will visit the event and what they plan on doing to promote. Giveaways are popular on events like these, so it’s smart to ask the authors what they’d be willing to provide early on.

Make the event and a related event hub page on your website look seamless and professional. Hiring out some art from Fiverr or other contractor platforms will usually do the trick. Make sure to have popups and tracking pixels enabled on your hub page to give yourself the best chance of bringing in new readers.

As the event draws near, get your authors to engage in their agreed upon promotions and spread the giveaways far and wide. If you’re already familiar with the platform, use Facebook ads to bring in additional targeted attendees. The last organizational hurdle will be getting authors to drop their prices for any event-related sales, and it’s worth following up a couple of times to make sure everybody does what they’re supposed to.

On the day of the event, interact heavily with all the readers who attend. This is your chance to make new fans, so you should always respond to comments quickly and charmingly. Throughout the day, pitch the author sale and encourage the other authors to push each others work. As the event comes to a close, draw winners from all the giveaways and invite readers to visit author websites. If all goes well, the authors involved should see a spike in sales, and you should have a fair number of new subscribers and Facebook users to target with your tracking pixel.

Active Promotion vs. Passive Promotion

Most of the discovery strategies we’ve discussed are relatively passive until you get people onto your email list. The Social Media Event strategy is the opposite. You’re connecting with authors and readers directly from the start. There’s something about having control over a process that makes this kind of marketing worthwhile. Instead of waiting and hoping that things happen, you’re the one in the driver’s seat. Since you have a limited number of hours every week, you probably can’t make all your marketing efforts active, but a mix of active and passive promotion will help you cover all the bases for the discovery of your book.